I the following essay I am going to be looking at what I believe to be the key characteristics of Pictorialism as well as this I will also be looking at the people I believe to of had the most impact on Pictorialism as a movement by analysing there works and ideology’s, by doing this I hope to answer the question ‘What are the characteristics of Pictorialism? ’ in a fulfilling and informative way whilst giving my biased and cynical British views on certain aspects, characters and events within the movement.
The phrase Pictorialism was first coined within the context of photography in Henry Peach Robinson book entitled ‘Pictorial Effect in Photography: Being Hints On Composition And Chiaroscuro For Photographers. ’ Written in 1869 an age when ‘’9 out of ten photographers are ignorant to art’’ and the photographic proses was seen by most as something scientific opposed to something that can in the right hands be art.
In many ways Pictorialism came about as a reaction to the small minded and bigoted nature of the art world of this time (its still pretty much the same today), it is because largely of Pictorialism that photography is accepted in the art world today. Naturalism and Peter Henry Emerson There are many characteristics in Pictorialism one of its most notably being it’s out of focus style.Order now
This is something that evolved as a characteristic of Pictorialism when it was still only a baby and was developing from its distant cousin naturalism, this now famous characteristic was originally pushed by someone who would have, in the early 1880’s made only stunning sharp pictures of nature, this was Peter Henry Emerson, a photographers whose roots lye within Naturalism and bird watching.
Emerson later became one of the key figures in having photography accepted as an art form writing 8 books on photography and a manuscript entitled a history of artistic photography (1936), He originally pushed the idea of out of focus images to his students instructing them to make photographs ‘’just as sharp as the eye sees it and no sharper’’ . Believing much like many do now with digital photography that the images presented by the camera were not in fact a true representation of what the human eye could actually see.
The Development of Pictorial Effect Where as Emerson strived often for the truth within the image, Pictorialism started to move away from this in 1890 where much like in art the substance within the image starting to become more important ‘stressing beauty over fact’ this became apparent within the development of the ‘pictorial effect’ inspired by the atmospherically soft brush strokes of painter from the Barbizon school.
Photographers believed that by coating their own paper, before or during the development process with obvious brush strokes and marks, made their photographs works of art opposed to works of science replicating effects that were created when making a painting almost as if they were trying to re-create the authenticity of classic works of art that people at that time didn’t feel photographs possessed. I feel these brush strokes also made the work feel as though it was not just an image trapped in a piece of paper but a work that now stood out and belonged in a three dimensional world opposed to a flat one.
The brush strokes much like choosing to use a softer focus also aloud the photographer to portray his or her own objective view of the scene it was this that manly the photographer Robert Demachy felt separated the art of photography from the straight science of photography that you see in Eadweard Muybridge’s work ‘’A straight print may be beautiful, and it may prove upper abundantly that its author is an artist: but it cannot be a work of art.. work of art must be transcription, not a copy of nature it must be subjective not objective’’ I feel as though this quote from Demachy sums up quite nicely the points put across in the previous paragraph and sums up many of the thought and practical methods behind the movement of Pictorialism. Animal Locomotion, Plate 695, Eadweard Muybridge, 1880s Robert Demachy Most well known for this painterly effect is the photographer Robert Demachy.
In his work he uses the brush strokes in such a way that the effect loses the somewhat gimmicky look that I feel it can sometimes be associated with. These brushstrokes on Demachi’s work do not look as though he is trying to copy a painting neither do they look like random marks with an image printed over the top, these marks become part of the image creating new tones, light and dark depending on where they have been placed on the paper. In his work ‘study of a head’ the marks blend into the clothing creating long flowing lines blurring what we preserve as a true image.
The same can be said for his image ‘Struggle’ (1904). Where he has used these marks to encase the subject, creating a feeling of panic as it seems she is desperately trying to escape the page on which she has been captured, these lines flow with the shape of the subjects body as she appears to be making them with her fingernails and hands. The marks combined with the image of the subject connotes feelings of claustrophobia, fear, and desperateness, as it appears the subject is trying to escape us, the viewer.
Camera Clubs The late 1980’s and early 1900’s saw the rise of the traditional camera clubs most notable of these were the ‘’wiener kamera klub, the linked ring in London , the photo-club de paris and most famously photo-secession in New Yorke. And the brotherhood of linked rings London’’ these camera clubs gave something new to the photographic community, a way to connect and share ideas on a larger scale much like what sites such as Flickr do today.
One of the key aspects about these clubs were the fact that they often did not allow or encourage professional photographer to join there ranks claiming that ‘’only armatures had the economic freedom and time for experimentation’’ of course what they really meant by this was if you have to money (but didn’t earn it) and are snobby you’re welcome to join, these policies ushered in another stage of Pictorialism where not bound by work deadlines, a pay check or having to impress an equally rich and snobby client no longer mattered meaning in essence these photographers were free to create what ever ‘art’ their brains were capable of coming up with. At the forefront of one of these clubs sat arguably Pictorialism most famous starlet Alfred Stieglitz. Gertrude Kasebier Although camera clubs did not often have rules again woman joining them they were still often discriminated against, ironically considering how Pictorialist simply wanted to be accepted by the wider art world.
One of the key practitioners to benefit from such clubs was Gertrude Kasebier (1852–1934) Kasebier differed from many of the big names in Pictorialism because firstly she was a woman but also because she believed that pictorial photography could be made as an art as well as making money and a career from it, it is for this reason that Stieglitz starting speaking out against her work around 1912 the same year she became the first photographer to quite the photo-secession club. It is not only these things that make her stand out from other Pictorialist but also her work. I feel she used a much broader subject matter than many Pictorialist were in the early 1990’s as it continually changes and develops through her career, as well as this I feel as though her work has much more substance than many other pictorial pieces, as she explores themes of oppression in race, gender and marriage therefor touching on what were big taboos in a time when woman didn’t even have the right to vote for their leaders. Alfred Stieglitz
It’s hard to talk about Pictorialism without mentioning Alfred Stieglitz, husband to Georgia O’Keeffe and a key figure in not only pictorial photography but the art world as a whole and one of, if not the main reason photography has status as an art form today. He achieved his goal of having photography accepted as an art in 1910 when ‘’it’s summation of what had been achieved in the history of the medium as art was presented, November 1910, at the Albright museum of Art Buffalo, N. Y. , in what was acknowledged to be an epochal demonstration, organised by Stieglitz. ’’ The exhibition at the Albright gallery consisted of 600 photographer most of whom were member of Photo-Secession and chosen by Stieglitz, it was also the first American Museum to purchase work by the Photo-Secession, again cementing Pictorialism’s and photography’s place in the art world.
One of Stieglitz’s most notable and most important project along with the 291 gallery (originally named ‘the little galleries of the photo-secession’) was his publication of the photographic journal Camera Works (1903-1917) of which he won the progress medal for as well as ‘’services rendered in founding Pictorial Photography in America’’ Camera Work concentrated on mostly pictorial works showcasing painterly and blurred images. Although Camera Work continued to concentrate on Pictorialism right up until WW1 Stieglitz started to loose interest in the medium, his mind being drawn toward the European avant-garde, modernism, cubism and expressionism in painting and it would seam lost interesting in Pictorialism in photography ‘’ From 1909 to 1917, only six of the sixty-one exhibitions at 291 featured photography. ’’ Transition in the 20th Century
In the 20th century Pictorialism was described as becoming ‘’darker, more symbolic and personal, reflecting the rise of modernist art and the experience of displaced peoples across Europe and the united states’’ Were as the more complex and extravagant printing techniques previously used were replaced by cheaper and easier techniques such as gelatin silver printing and photogravure. This aloud for more prints to be made at a cheaper cost, ironically I feel this completely goes against earlier standard and ways of thinking in the Pictorialist movement, de-valuing the work and the artist credibility they believed came from something rare and authentic.
Leaving its roots in Naturalism behind Pictorialism moved away from the more romanticised countryside shots common in Europe to a harder grittier urban settings, often trying to find beauty in unlikely location, Stieglitz who continued to work mostly on the streets of New York started to move further away from the more traditional Pictorialist styles taking inspiration from Japanese artist such as Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige.
Where as some photographers of the time such as Pierre Dubreuil (1872-1944) starting making more progressive pieces combining futurist and cubist ideas into the mix and unlike most other Pictorialist emphasizing designee over contented the old boys, Stieglitz, Steichen ext. ecame more self obsessed moving away from landscapes and portraits of young children to continuously photographing themselves and each other for example in the peace Frank Eugene, Alfred Stieglitz, Heinrich Kuhn and Edward Steichen Admiring the Work of Eugene (1907), I think certain thing like this are with other factors important to the downfall of Pictorialism as a major player in the art/ photography world, I don’t think I would be alone in thinking towards the end of Camera Work’s influence Stieglitz hindered the movement more than he helped it continually turning friends into enemy for what he saw as ‘challenging his authority’ or disagreeing with his ideas, in many ways he was as much of a dictator of Pictorialism as he was a creator, like the moustached love child of a Kim Jon-Un and a more socially acceptable visionary.
With this ‘obsessive’ self portrait talking came certain comments in the book .. o and so said, ‘’There was renewed interest in the inner depths that could be revealed in a portrait, seen most tellingly in the works of Steichen, Coburn and Frank Eugene. ’ As photography was slowly accepted into the ignorant and snobby art world Pictorialism and it’s influence and relevance started to fade and along with it was some of it’s key practitioners, Alfred Stezaker started to make more traditional images stating ‘’My photographs look like photographs- and (in the eyes of the ‘pictorial photographers’) they therefore can’t be art’’ 21 (1923) And the camera club he was part of was torn apart by his own ever enlarging ego, although Pictorialism was still practiced after WW1 it no longer had as much relevance in a more accepting art world. Conclusion
The characteristics of Pictorialism can not just be defined by the work made and the techniques used by the artist, it is true that certain effects on images are in the brackets of Pictorialism, the painterly effects that showed human elements to the work which contradicted the ideas that photographs were machine made and there was no artist human element and therefor photography could not be an art. The soft focus which initially moved photography away from just recording events as they were seen even if that was not the original intention of Peter Henry Emerson but I feel the most important characteristic of Pictorialism was the relentless ways in which the artist pushed the movement, creating communities in the form of camera clubs, publishing journals and essays and touring exhibitions around the world as well as creating whole new spaces for Pictorialist work to be displayed, in doing this they not only got photography accepted into the art world but redefined modern art forever changing the ignorant face of the art world.